Oh dear. For some fans, Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’ epitomizes the Pertwee era; if this is true, then the Pertwee era isnÂ’t very good. I take no pleasure in slating a story so widely considered to be a classic, but there is so much wrong with Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’ in my opinion that try as I might, I just canÂ’t find it in me to like it.
IÂ’ll start with what I do like. I like the basic plot, although this is largely because it is the plot of Quatermass and the Pit. Not that IÂ’m complaining, since many very good Doctor Who stories are hugely derivative of other stories; to continue the Nigel Kneale theme for example, IÂ’d like to point out that Â‘Spearhead From SpaceÂ’ of which I am a huge fan, draws heavily for inspiration on Quatermass II. I merely point it out since it explains why, in a story that is so mediocre in most respects, the basic premise is sound.
Secondly, I like Jon PertweeÂ’s performance. It has been argued that the Doctor is at his worst in Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’, being intolerant, patriarchal, and patronizing. This is all quite true, but it works for me in the context of the season. During the first three stories, he was bad-tempered and irritable, resenting his exile and desperate to escape. In Â‘Colony in SpaceÂ’, he suddenly and unexpectedly gets a brief reprieve from his exile and is markedly more relaxed and generally in better humour than in the three prior stories. It makes sense then that having been reminded so dramatically of what he has lost, he is even more foul-tempered afterwards, his exile once more enforced. Having said that, he goes a bit far with Miss Hawthorne; I donÂ’t believe in magic either, but if I knew that someone who did had just seen a thirty-foot tall were-goat I think IÂ’d be a lot more understanding if they thought that it was the Devil.
Finally, I like the Master. No change there, then. Interestingly, after offering the Doctor a half-share in the universe in Â‘Colony in SpaceÂ’, he now seems genuinely to want to kill his rival. IÂ’ve noted as IÂ’ve reviewed the past four stories that the Master often finds excuses not to kill the Doctor and seems to want to impress him; having perhaps finally realized that he canÂ’t, he seems to have adopted a Â“sod him thenÂ” attitude, which fits in nicely with his character development over the season. In addition to this, watching this season in sequence, I suddenly realized just how much it must have stung him when Azal offers his power to the Doctor first. This is particularly of note given that being humiliated by the Doctor is his worst fear, as exposed by the Mind Parasite in Â‘The Mind of EvilÂ’.
ThatÂ’s about it for what I like about Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’; the rest is in my opinion utter dross. For starters, UNITÂ’s degeneration into farce is complete by this point, all traces of the secretive, paramilitary organization of Season Seven lost. The Brigadier is little more than a buffoon here, doing nothing but blustering and issuing ludicrous orders (Â“Chap with the wings thereÂ…Â”). Sergeant Osgood, a ridiculous caricature who frequently questions orders, does not help this. Captain Yates is even worse. IÂ’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike the character, and this story epitomizes my reasons why. Yates is smug, cheeky and generally irritating. IÂ’m no expert on the military, but he seems remarkably lippy when heÂ’s talking to the Brigadier on his radio transmitter, most notably when he smugly tells Lethbridge-Stewart as an afterthought that the Master is responsible for events in DevilÂ’s End and promptly hangs up. HeÂ’s even worse when he points out Bok to the Brigadier in Episode Five, adopting an air of superiority and a suppressed mirth as he demonstrates the gargoyleÂ’s threat to his superior. Nice to know heÂ’s getting some amusement out of the impending end of the world thenÂ… UNIT basically feels like DadÂ’s Army and has lost all credibility. Benton at least is quite good here though, John Levene proving quite good at fight scenes.
Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’ also struggles for cliffhangers. The Episode Four cliffhanger is absurd, with the threat posed not to the Doctor or his companion but to his archenemy. It typifies the silly cosy Â“UNIT familyÂ” attitude adopted by the series. Imagine a cliffhanger in which some Daleks face destruction Â– the principle would be exactly the same. The cliffhanger to Episode Two is even more flawed, but in its resolution this time. Bok, it is made clear, is a statue animated by Azal, a powerful alien fully aware of how his own peopleÂ’s psionic science works and with a far greater understanding of it than anyone else present. The Master, an intelligent Time Lord who has been studying DĂ¦mon technology in order to summon Azal, controls Bok. So why exactly is Bok, animated by Azal and controlled by the Master, scared of a trowel? The DoctorÂ’s explanation to Jo that although he doesnÂ’t believe in magic Bok does, smacks of complete bollocks.
Speaking of complete bollocks, we have the ending. Firstly, I find it hard to believe that JoÂ’s self-sacrifice is sufficient to make Azal blow himself up: if so, it is no surprise that he is the last of his kind. For starters, he considers the Doctor irrational but shows no sign of self-destructing in response. It is, quite simply, a contrived and nauseating ending. It isnÂ’t helped by the fact that JoÂ’s cry of Â“DonÂ’t kill him, kill meÂ” is horribly melodramatic and poorly delivered. She could have just thrown herself in front of the Doctor, as she did in the novelisation, but instead she just bounces frantically up and down and offers herself instead, as though bidding for some kind of terminal auction.
In short, Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’ is full of annoying trivial shortcomings that add up to drivel. The story feels as though it is struggling to fill five episodes, with UNIT wrestling with technobabble outside the heat barrier (which incidentally is quite well realized and one of the storyÂ’s better aspects). Then we have the Doctor stating that the release of heat energy in Episode Two is final confirmation of his theory about what is happening, but then refusing to explain to anyone else until he is certain. So what, precisely, does he think Â“final confirmationÂ” means? What he actually means is, Â“IÂ’ll explain in Episode Three so that we can crowbar another cliffhanger in firstÂ”. To be fair, there are also other minor things that I like in Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’, including Professor Horner, the final scene, and Azal himself Â– Stephen Thorne is not the most subtle of actors, but he fulfills his role very well here. Overall however, I just find Â‘The DĂ¦monsÂ’ to be a smug, slightly glib, self-satisfied runaround, playing the UNIT family game by numbers.